Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"The Most Honest Business Of Them All"

is show business.

This may, on a first hearing, sound counter-intuitive – didn’t that show biz guy bamboozle Pinocchio? – but sometimes, counter-intuitive statements are right.  Though not always; sometimes, they’re just stupid. 

This behooves me to back up my counter-intuitional assertion with a persuasive argument.  Which begins right now.

Consider the dealmaking in show business.  In my experience, my employers’ Business Affairs Departments always delivered on what I was contractually entitled to receive.  Unless they could conceive of a way not to. 

To me, that’s honest.

“We will not cheat you.  Unless we can.”

This type of honesty is pervasive in show business deals, large and small.  In major contractual disputes – like when a studio sells a hit series into syndication to a cable subsidiary that is owned by the same studio – the studio will fight their adversaries tooth and nail and then, as occurs with every financial dispute I can think of, settle before trial. 

Why?  Because if a studio settles before the trial, it does not have to open its books to back up its claims.  By never opening the books – ever! – the studios disclose to anyone paying attention how sleazy and disreputable their business procedures are.  We know this to be the case with a hundred per cent certainty, because if the studio’s business procedures were not sleazy and disreputable, they would be more than happy open their books.

To me, this is entirely honest.

“We always cheat you.  And by refusing you open our books, we are making that indisputably clear. 

“How much more honest can we be?” 

Here’s another way show business is honest.  And this time, I am not biting my cheek. 

Show business is, at its bottom line, a meritocracy.  Ultimately, though in some cases it may take a while, if you have nothing to offer, you’re gone.  Connections, charm, persistence, “Casting Couch” quid pro quos, they will only get you so far.  After that, you have to have deliver the goods, “the goods” not necessarily being something objectively valuable – like, say, actual ability – but at least something deemed valuable by the contemporary marketplace.

They do not pay you for nothing. 

The scion of a successful CEO can put in token appearances at the office, and walk away hefty paycheck.  Not in show business.  In show business, you have to show up on a regular basis, and do something.

That’s honest.

From the acceptance standpoint, in the final analysis, it’s the audience alone, in its wisdom and unalloyed democratude, that ultimately determines success or failure.  You cannot pay off a entire country:

“Here’s a fifty.  Say I’m a movie star.”

That would take a boatload of fifties.  And it still wouldn’t work, because the audience decides such matters for itself.  In the honest environment of show business, you have to deliver, in whatever medium that might be.

“I’m a major porn star.”

“You have sex in movies?”

“If I didn’t, I would not be a major porn star.”

Once again.  Honest.

And finally, the most honest aspect of show business, which is this:

Show business never for a second pretends that it’s real.

Show business is total fabrication.  And, reality shows aside, it never acts like it isn’t.

“We do ‘Make Believe’ here.  We make stuff up.  Like with Mad Men.  ‘We found them frozen from the early sixties.  We thawed them out, and we put them on television.’  Show business makes no such claim.  They ae not trying to pull the wool over your eyes.  ‘It’s actors.  Wearing period costumes, and talking and behaving as if it’s the early sixties.  No way, do we claim it’s real.  A lot of these actors weren’t born till the seventies!’

Totally honest.  Transparent fakery.

Unlike what? 

Everything else.

You got to a supermarket:

“Is this melon ripe?”


You take it home, you cannot cut it with a chain saw.

Used car dealer:

“Has this car ever been in an accident?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

What does “Not to my knowledge” mean?  It means they are either blatantly lying, and they know the car’s been in an accident.  Or they deliberately never checked, so they could tell the truth, without confessing that the “knowledge” they are attesting to is zero, which is simply a different form of lying.

This never happens in show business.

“In The Planet of the Apes, are those actually real apes?”

“Yeah, right.  Still, can you believe how real they made them look?”

Show business doesn’t lie. 

Unlike politicians. 

Do we really need examples for this?  Okay, maybe one:

“Governor Romney, when you were running for governor of Massachusetts, you said, ‘I believe in a woman’s right to choose.’  Now, you’re saying you would overturn Roe vs Wade, which would eliminate a woman’s right to choose.  Can you actually say both things?”

“Yes I can. Though it’s best if you space them out.”

Show business would never do that. 

“Ms. Streep.  In one movie you were Julia Child, and in another, you were the editor of a Woman’s Magazine.  Who exactly are you?

“I’m an actress.  And what kind of question is that?”

You see the difference?  Show business does not prevaricate, it does not maliciously mislead.  Show business is a bastion of artifice, but, unlike other enterprises, which are equally artificial but they claim to be real, show business is entirely out front about its intentions.  Show business says,

“We are fooling you.  And we are letting you know.”

Which, to my way of thinking,

Makes show business,

Far and away,

The Most Honest Business Of Them All.

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